Scott Kelly’s Year of Working Tediously

It’s not all Star Wars up there.

Kelly looks out cupola.jpg
Kelly sightseeing at the space station Cupola windows.

Scott Kelly is back on Earth after his nearly-year-long stay on the space station, and NASA is busy tallying up his accomplishments. During his 340 days in orbit, the astronaut tweeted out 1,000 photos, did more than 400 experiments (a fair number of them on himself), and saw (or at least had the opportunity to see) 10,944 sunrises and sunsets.

Add to that dozens of somersaults performed for school kids during in-flight video interviews, and countless questions answered for drive-time radio personalities about home-team sports and going to the bathroom in zero-g. (NASA knows how to work the publicity machine, and astronauts do their full share and more.)

They also do a lot of mundane fix-it work. Face it, a lot of what astronauts do on the station is about as much like Star Wars as replacing a garbage disposal or updating the anti-virus software on your computer.

On his very last day on the station, Kelly had the usual busy to-do list—give blood and saliva for the “twins study” he’s doing with his brother Mark, take pictures of British astronaut Tim Peake reading a children’s story, pack for home, and, what a surprise, troubleshoot another experiment. Here’s Kelly struggling with an IT problem just hours before he, Sergei Volkov and fellow year-in-space cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko boarded the Soyuz. You can hear the resignation in his voice as he tells Mission Control he’s ready to throw in the towel. What computer owner hasn’t been there?

Astronauts are known for staying cool in situations that would frustrate mere mortals, and Kelly’s among the coolest. Here he is just two weeks ago, after a long session of troubleshooting a bad hard drive, finding humor in an error message that would have most people shouting at the screen.

Then again, the spaceflight business is all about staying calm, moving methodically through the checklist, and making sure everything gets done right.

As I write this, Kelly is still making his way home. It must really be something to rediscover Earth after being somewhere else. More than once in the last year, the astronaut told interviewers that he missed the ability to step outside and feel the sunshine. Pretty soon he’ll be missing the view from 250 miles up. And the somersaults.